Planning a family vacation can be annoying and complicated, but every year my dad bites the bullet and organises a family trip to somewhere within driving distance of Cape Town.
Our trip usually happens during the heart of winter, in June or July, and lasts between three and seven days — just enough for us to regroup and reconnect. Being a family of four, you’d think it wouldn’t be too difficult to accommodate all of our needs, but considering that we are all adults who are very specific about what we need, it gets really tough more often than not. For example, this year I needed a good wi-fi connection to check my emails, my brother wanted to dine out a lot, my dad wanted our accommodation to be on the water’s edge, and my mom, like every other year, wanted BBQ facilities so she didn’t have to do all the cooking. Keeping all these needs in mind, we scoured the internet until we came across the magnificent Thesen Islands in Knysna with its many different accommodation options.
Located on the Knysna Lagoon and made up of 19 islands, Thesen Islands is a gated community with many self-catering apartments, guest houses, a hotel and private homes. The layout was designed to provide residents and vacationers with a unique and comfortable lifestyle. With only one secure road leading onto the island, it is as safe as it is beautiful.
On our arrival on the islands (no boat ride or airplane needed), the very friendly and helpful security staff assisted us with finding our way over the narrow one-way bridges, never-ending streets and array of houses to our rental for the next week. We had chosen a lovely four-sleeper, self-catering house called Thesen Islands Holiday House that we found online. Other options we saw on the same website included Anka’s Villa T15 (four sleeper), Thesen Island (seven sleeper), Edgewater Cottage (eight sleeper), The Dry Mill (six sleeper), and many more. Prices ranged from US$66 to US$305 per house per night for self-catering, and guest houses for four to eight people. With prices reduced during winter (June to August), you can pick up a few great bargains. Prices do however increase during the annual Knysna Oyster Festival at the beginning of July.
We quickly settled into our digs and got ready to explore the island. Before we even left the premises we spotted a few things we loved about the island. Each house faces a canal that leads to the lagoon, and has a private launch site for boats and kayaks. Just before sunset the usually flat water of the canal outside the house becomes choppy as residents sail home on their boats.
The island also boast a bunch of fantastic attractions and activities including private beaches, an amazing bird park, a putting green for the golfers, an excellent cycling track and a large children’s play park. Footpaths have been built along the streets and are wide enough to accommodate an afternoon stroll, joggers and cyclists. Residents and vacationers also have exclusive access through a security tag gate to the popular Thesen Habour Town, which has several amazing restaurants and places to go shopping.
We realised that each family member’s needs had been met in this fabulous location: amazing restaurants were just a drunken stumble away; there was great pre-paid wi-fi access throughout the gated community; every house was on the waters edge; and there was an amazing BBQ area. My family and I were in paradise. Being the middle of winter, the weather kept us indoors for a few days, but Knysna is made for relaxing and there’s nothing like cuddling up with a good book and glass of wine. When the sun did come out, we enjoyed sitting on the balcony (something that every house and apartment has) overlooking the canal or taking the 15 minute walk the Knysna Quays Waterfront where there are loads of restaurants, shopping and various boat trip to the Knysna Heads and Nature Reserve. We also enjoyed exploring the island and found that it is very community-oriented, with a communal vegetable garden, a clubhouse with a bar for residents only, and a dog run area where dogs and their owners can socialise.
Even though our time on Thesen Islands was limited, it started to feel like home. Afternoon naps, sunrise walks through the streets of the island and watching the sunset with a glass of wine from the balcony became compulsory. The island took my your mind off all my worries from back home. I also felt completely safe for the first time in a long time. Kids played unattended in the streets (a strict 30km speed limit is enforced on the island), doors were left unlocked at night, and leaving a window open while out during the day was nothing to worry about. It was the South Africa of the 1960s and 70s — the place my parents grew up in — and you could see the worry disappear from their faces too.
After an uneventful but blissful week of relaxing, napping and just taking in the natural beauty of Knysna, it was time to head home. I could have easily spent another week in this beautiful location, but everything comes at a price — and the pre-paid wi-fi was becoming extremely expensive. Also my brother needed to get back to university, and my parents back to work. On our last day we took the two-minute walk to Thesen Habour Town for a bite to eat, watched the motor boats and kayaks head out onto the lagoon, and enjoyed a leisurely stroll around the island for the last time.
Before we knew it, the week and our annual family trip was over, and we were packing our bags and leaving the place we all agreed was the best spot to stay in Knysna. We exited the island and left behind the security, serenity and beauty of Thesen Islands.